WASHINGTON, D.C. — Many players find it difficult to getexcited about the postseason practices currently being conducted by D.C. Unitedand several other MLS sides not involved in the playoffs.
But these ‘lame-duck’ training sessions have real value forJulius James and other Caribbean internationals who are still participating inimportant matches for their countries. James is one of several MLS playersinvolved in the Digicel Caribbean Cup, the regional competition whose top fourfinishers earn berths in next summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup.
United’s 26-year-old center back recently returned toWashington after playing a major role in Trinidad & Tobago’s successfulqualification for the tournament’s final round, which takes place in Martiniqueat the end of November.
“Yeah, it works out perfectly for me because right now[national team] camp is broken and they’re not training together but once or twiceper week,” James said on Wednesday. “There’s supposed to be a foreigninternational game on [November] 17 – they were hoping that if I go back forthat, then I could stay through until the tournament in Martinique. So I’llhave a talk with the [United] front office, the coaches and we’ll see.”
Head coach Russell Latapy has been under pressure to improvethe Soca Warriors’ results this fall, and his decision to build his back linearound James and LA Galaxy youngster Yohance Marshall seems to have paid off.T&T are well-placed to qualify for the 2011 Gold Cup after missing out onthe 2009 edition. And in contrast to the nation’s 2006 World Cup squad, they’vedone so with a youthful core.
During his playing days, Latapy was almost as famous for hispostgame partying as for his skill on the ball. But the former Scottish Premier League star has crafted a positiveteam spirit among the next generation of T&T internationals and he’s calledon James to play a leading role in the team’s growth.
“[When I was] growing up, he was legendary,” James said. “Hisnickname is ‘Magic,’ because the stuff he does with the ball is pretty amazing.It’s good having him as a coach, it’s good being under a legendary guy likethat. He instills discipline in the team – he’s pretty laid-back but he strikesthe right balance. He gets the guys to do what he wants to do.”
The San Jose Earthquakes’ deep playoff run has precludedLatapy from calling on Cornel Glen and Scott Sealy for Caribbean Cup duty. Butadd in a few more players of their quality and it’s not hard to imagine theSoca Warriors making some noise in CONCACAF’s showpiece tournament next summer.
That’s the vision that motivates James and his countrymen,and after his encouraging progress with United this season, he’s eager toinspire revivals for both club and country in 2011.
“The older guys are gone,” James noted. “I thanked [Latapy]for the opportunity that he gave to me, and he replied and said, ‘You know,you’re one of the top guys on the team now,’ and I took that as I have to workvery hard to help out the team and do everything that I can.”